We Need to Talk – It’s a Matter of Life & Death

Many people don’t understand why those of us who advocate for the needs of gifted people do what we do.  Many people falsely believe we’re fighting for the rights of the elite, of the people who already have a step up in life, of people who have it easy.  Many people naively believe that gifted kids are smart enough to take care of themselves and figure it out.  Many people mistakenly believe that we shouldn’t tell kids they are gifted because it will just make them feel different and egotistical.

While it sounds dramatic – I’m here to demand that we talk about giftedness, because it truly is a matter of life and death.

I had the honor of speaking to the fine gifted advocates in Texas a couple of weeks ago during the giftED 18 conference put on by TAGT.  And ya’ll, they DO do it bigger in Texas!  Among the 2000 attendees were a real-life cute as can be kangaroo named Matilda, a ginormous boa constrictor named Thor, the actual Thor, Wonder Woman, not to mention a whole slew of some of the friendliest people I’ve met.

But, Thor and Matilda aren’t a matter of life and death (unless you’re considering Thor the boa constrictor whom my mom adamantly proclaimed was eyeing her with a hungry twinkle in his eye).  No, my reminder of the true stakes behind whether we talk about giftedness or not came during and after my presentation on Existential Depression.

The talk outlines what existential depression is (essentially depression that’s sparked by the big existential questions of life:  meaning and purpose, life and death, belonging and isolation, freedom and captivity) and what to do about it.  The talk belongs at gifted conferences as gifted individuals are more prone to this type of depression.  I have sat in the room with kids as young as 5 and as old as 92 who have embodied the disillusionment, heartache, and hopelessness of existential depression.

I know it’s important.  I know we need to talk about it.  I know we need to take the stigma off of giftedness.  And I know we need to take the stigma off of mental health.  And, yet, it’s easy for me to forget what’s at stake.

I’m thankful for the 3, yes THREE of the 30-40 people attending my session, women who approached me at various times after the session.  Tears in their eyes, shakiness in their voices, they shared their own vulnerability with me.  They shared their own stories of a child, a neighbor, a family member who were all exceptionally gifted and died by suicide.

We need to talk.  It’s a matter of life and death.

My own eyes welled as I thought of the hopelessness and despair and loneliness a person feels when suicide seems the only option.

We need to talk.  It’s a matter of life and death.

The faces of all my clients who have been on the brink flashed through my mind’s eye.  The trembling grief of all my clients who have survived the death of a loved one due to suicide sunk into my gut.  The pain of the women standing before me pulled at my heart.

We need to talk.  It’s a matter of life and death.

And, of course, the what if’s sprang into my mind.  What if they could see how many people did care about them?  What if their depression had been treated differently?  What if their friends and family had been trained to ask the tough questions?  What if the teachers had been trained to understand giftedness better?  What if we, as a society, could be more accepting of difference?  What if the world could understand the very real peril our kids are in when they don’t feel understood?

What if it was my kid?

We need to talk.  It’s a matter of life and death.

I know this might seem an odd time to come out of my quiet blog-absence to write about something so big and so dark and so sad.  And yet, the holidays are a vulnerable, sad, dark time for many people.  And, existential depression, suicidal ideation, feeling different and unacceptable, feeling unloved, feeling disconnected and isolated happens year-round. 

Please – for those of you who have survived the death of a loved one by suicide, please know I do not believe for one second that you are at fault or that there’s something more you should have, could have, done.  You loved them the best you could.  Depression is heavy and mighty.  I’ve seen it skew people’s brains to truly believe that their children would be better off without their dad. 

No – this is a call to all of us.  To talk about it.  To talk about depression.  To ask, bluntly, whether someone is having thoughts of harming themselves.  Ask whether or not they have thought about killing themselves.  Ask if they know how they’d do it.  Ask.

It is a call to talk about it.  Talk about what they have to live for.  Talk about the hope there is with treatment.  Talk about how you see them, you know them, you would miss them.  Talk about it.

Talk about professionals who could be of help.  Talk about calling 911 or 999 or whatever your emergency services’ number is.  Talk about getting help.  Talk to the professionals and get the help.

It is a call to talk about not just depression, but giftedness.  Talk about emotional intensity and how that makes gifted people feel things more deeply, more quickly.  Talk about the often higher empathy experienced by many gifted people that makes them feel for others more deeply and be subsumed by others’ pain.  Talk about the idealism of giftedness and the disillusionment that can from that.  Talk about being different.  Give it a name.  Remind each other that different isn’t better or worse, it’s simply different.

Talk.  It’s a matter of life and death.